Remember just a few months ago, when it seemed every road in every direction was under construction at the exact same time, when a daily commute was a punishing slog that took twice as long as it should?
The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada would rather you forget all about that, and envision a peaceful, stress-free commute on nice, smooth, well-paved roads, without an orange cone in sight.
After you get done voting for president, Congress, the Legislature and the like, you’ll face one final item on your ballot: Question 5, also known as fuel tax indexing.
Essentially, Question 5 would extend for an additional 10 years the current three-year indexing of the gasoline tax to rising construction costs. That would raise the gas tax by about 3.6 cents per gallon per year for the next decade. When added to existing levies, it means drivers will pay at least $1 per gallon in taxes for gasoline once it’s fully implemented in 2026.
The tax will supposedly expire once the bonds used to pay for road projects are paid off in a couple of decades.
There’s no organized opposition to extending the tax (more on that in a second), but the RTC is definitely promoting it, with an informational section on its website.
According to the agency, the indexing that’s been in place since 2013, (adding about 10 cents per gallon in taxes) has funded 161 project contracts, comprising $401 million in spending, benefiting 76 small businesses and creating 5,179 jobs.
If the Question 5 extension is approved, the new money will be used for a variety of projects, including the Nevada portion of the new Interstate 11 highway planned from Phoenix to Las Vegas; the completion of the 215 Beltway and bridges; traffic signal development and roadway improvements.
And that brings us to the disorganized opposition to Question 5: the RTC itself.
As any Las Vegas commuter knows, driving around this town can be a wild and frustrating ride. Ever had to stop several times at several different lights between major streets? The RTC oversees the system that regulates those lights.
Ever wonder who’s supposed to be coordinating road projects around town across multiple jurisdictions? It’s not Mr. Murphy of Murphy’s Law fame — it’s the RTC. Ever wonder who plans for traffic and roadway construction in the valley? (And no, that’s not a trick question; somebody actually does plan it.)
It’s traffic fails we see everyday that conspire to doom Question 5, or at least make it a much harder sell.
Yes, we all want better roads, a fully completed Beltway, and — please! — traffic signals that are synchronized so that cars going at or near the speed limit hit more greens than reds.
But if the RTC’s staff hasn’t accomplished these things so far, will additional fuel tax money do the trick? That’s asking voters to take a costly leap of faith.
On the other hand, the reality is this: Without fuel tax indexing, the amount of money available for fixing roads will continue to decrease (thanks a lot, more fuel efficient cars and electric vehicles that Nevada has subsidized with huge tax breaks).
The RTC has written a wish list of projects that cost $6 billion, but even if Question 5 is approved, the agency will be able to pay for only about half of the projects on that list, under the best-case scenario. You can’t complain about the backlog of work if the RTC doesn’t have the resources to do it.
This is the bitter dilemma facing Clark County voters when it comes to Question 5.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.